The girl who once triggered storms of local controversy for competing with boys on high-school wrestling teams has won two world titles in the world of women’s wrestling, stoking her dream of competing in the 2016 Olympics.
Adeline Gray, captain of the Chatfield High School wrestling team in 2007, won the gold in her weight class at the 2012 women’s freestyle wrestling World Championships in Canada in September. She’s only the sixth American woman to win the gold in women’s freestyle wrestling at that competition.
Three days later, she flew to Finland, where she won the gold in her weight class at the University World Championships.
Her gold medal from the 2012 World Championships, huge and hefty, hangs on a shelf in the family living room in Littleton, right next to her glamorous high school portrait.
“I don’t know if it’s fully hit me yet,” she said, “to be the 2012 world champion and to be the sixth woman to do it, along with girls I have been looking up to since I was 6.”
Gray’s success, touted in a recent meeting of the Denver City Council, has impressed people such as Councilman Paul Lopez.
“Her career as a female wrestler is inspiring to other young women — and even young men,” he said in an e-mail interview. “It’s been great watching the pride in her father after she comes home with a victory.”
Lopez knows her father, George Gray, through his work in the Denver Police Department. The former SWAT officer now works as a detective in the graffiti unit and maintains an extensive e-mail list of people — including Denver cops —
who want to be updated on Adeline’s latest victories.
“She’s got a fan club,” George Gray said. “Word got around.”
Adeline, 21, is the oldest of four daughters born to George Gray and his wife, Donna. Wrestling was a strong force in the family because Donna’s brother, Paul Demonico, a former All-America wrestler at Western State Colorado University, was head coach of the local junior-league wrestling club.
His kids were on the team, and Adeline — a very athletic child — joined at age 6.
“I fell in love with wrestling,” she said.
At the 2012 World Championships, her winning move was one she learned as a kid from her father.
She’s now a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where she wrestles and lifts weights six days a week to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Trials. In her spare time, she’s studying for a business degree at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
And even though she no longer has to wrestle boys, she still fights a certain stigma.
” ‘You wrestle? But you look like a girl,’ ” she said. “I’m, like, ‘Actually, my team is very pretty.’ ”
With her long, dark hair, chic style and infectious laugh, she’s much like other young women her age — except for the power packed into her 5-foot, 9-inch, 147-pound body.
“We can be strong females … and go out there and dominate,” she said, “but at the same time, when I step on the mat I want to be a girl and be respected as a female in society who is pretty and has ideals that are along the lines of everyone else.”
Role model for girls
She wants to be a role model for girls, especially those with a passion for sports.
“More than anything, wrestling taught me that if you put forth some hard work, you can have success,” she said. “That is such a life truth of mine — anything you put time, energy and effort into can lead to some really positive things in your life.”
She has persevered through pain and adversity.
“The gut-wrenching difficulty of wrestling is extreme,” said her mother, Donna. “The pain level is a really big deal.”
At the 2010 World Cup in Russia, Adeline dislocated her kneecap, which required complicated surgery and two months on crutches, and forced her to take a year off from training.
“Everyone at this level has injuries to overcome,” said her father. “She’s got the inner drive and determination to overcome.”
Her knee remains a daily struggle. She feels the pain every morning, despite four days a week of rehab. And if her knee hits the mat too often in practice, it will be so swollen the next day that her full workout won’t be possible.
“It’s good enough to win, which is all that matters,” she said. “But my doctor says, ‘I don’t even know how you wrestle with that.’ ”
Gray also dealt with extreme disappointment at not making the Olympic team this year. She went to London as an alternate.
“When it came down to it,” she said, “I was too young and naive to believe in myself fully that I could be on that team.”
She now knows she’s good enough to make it to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. And, win or lose, her close-knit family is always there, in the stands.
“If they believe in me, and believe I can push through whatever obstacles are put before me, it helps me strive to be better,” she said. “There are times when I have wanted to quit, but just knowing that it would be a disappointment to my sisters makes me push harder.”
Colleen O’Connor: 303-954-1083, firstname.lastname@example.org